The Roller Coaster

Empty nest

For nearly the past week our children have been up north visiting grandparents and aunts and uncles. Gina and I have stayed home to tend to work, take care of chores around the house, etc. (It’s the “etc.” that was the good part!)

With five kids Gina and I have our hands (and minds) full most of the time. We do have a pretty busy household. It can get messy around here too. Having five kids (three of them teenagers) will tend to raise the level of clutter and noise to a house. It’s not for everyone that’s for sure. I’ve seen the faces of friends or relatives when they come to visit. That “there but for the grace of God go I” look. Most days I just close the French doors of my home office as tightly as I can and keep my head down.

It often seems as though we really can’t see much past the next hour or two. Friends and family call us to ask if we want to go to a movie three days from now and we are left with a confused look on our face. “Three days from now…? That’s not even on our radar yet!”

A Divine Intersection: Behind the Scenes of “The Color of Rain”

As many already know, the Hallmark Channel is turning our story, “The Color of Rain” into a Hallmark movie in 2014. Filming took place in Vancouver, Canada last month and we’re excited to see the finished product (Will air sometime between December 2013 and June 2014). The experience of being on a movie set was a thrill for our family. We enjoyed sharing photos on Facebook and tweeting with movie stars. But there is a “less public” side of this story that needs to be shared. It’s a story of how one generous sacrifice can lead to a lifetime of memories.

It began more than a year ago when the movie producers, David Permut and Dan Paulson, agreed to let us auction off a “walk on” role or cameo appearance, in “The Color of Rain” at our annual fundraiser benefitting our nonprofit, New Day Foundation for Families. We were thrilled to have such a unique experience for our live auction. Not many auctions around here can offer that!

The night of our gala event, just prior to the live auction, Theresa Kull shared her cancer journey with nearly 300 foundation supporters and passionately explained how the New Day Foundation for Families blessed her family in their time of need.

“I read “The Color of Rain” just a few weeks before my cancer diagnosis, not knowing what my family was about to go through. After I was diagnosed, Michael and Gina came to our church to speak and I felt as if God was letting me know everything was going to be okay. That was the day I learned about the New Day Foundation. It was just a few weeks later we started receiving much needed help with our monthly expenses, and the foundation even threw a wonderful birthday party for two of my kids that summer. It was truly a gift from God.”

When it was time to auction off the walk on role in the film, bidder paddles went up, and up, and up! There was a couple, sitting not too far from Theresa, who was outbidding everyone in the room. I had never met the couple, but knew they were guests of our friends and sponsor, Mike and Joeanne Gauthier, from Save On Everything (the coupon books you get in the mail regularly)

When the bidding went over $3,000 things really started to get exciting! This unassuming couple seemed determined to have a cameo appearance in a Hallmark movie.

As the auctioneer was shouting, “Can I get $4,000? We’ve got $3,750 over here, can I get four?” Sure enough, the quiet couple raised their paddle and the crowd started cheering. With that, the winning bid was called and Vince and Lisa Asaro from Rochester we’re the winners. Or so we thought.

Just minutes after outbidding the room for this one of a kind auction item/experience, Vince and Lisa informed me that they wanted to give Theresa Kull the walk on role in the movie. They gave it away and walked away empty handed.

Through their Asaro-Guzzardo Family Foundation, Vince and Lisa out-bid everyone in the room in the name of generosity and kindness. But it didn’t stop there. They also offered to provide travel expenses for Theresa’s entire family to join her in Vancouver on the movie set, which meant another $2,500 on top of the $4,000 they so generously donated to the foundation.

In the aftermath of the event, I’ve come to believe the Asaro’s walked away perhaps the most fulfilled and grateful people of all. Certainly, Theresa and her family were blessed and grateful for the experience and the memories it created, but it’s compelling to recognize how a selfless act of kindness, a pouring out of self, will cause us to overflow with the riches of God’s love. Our souls seem to grow deeper roots and grow more robust fruit of spirit with each act of generosity.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

It’s not dollar amounts that matter. It’s about the spirit within us that compels us to share our resources, time, money, space, life, and our very hearts, with others in need.

Those blessed enough to afford a ticket to this beautiful party and auction at Meadow Brook aren’t attending for the purpose of walking away with something. We attend for the purpose of providing for those less fortunate in our community and burdened by the horrors of cancer.

It’s a party with a purpose hosted by a love your neighbor as yourself organization! Come, and walk away enriched and blessed!

To attend our events in September, please click on “Events” above or visit www.FoundationForFamilies.org.

 

The Kull Family with actress Lacey Chabert, star of "The Color of Rain" Hallmark movie

Theresa Kull, New Day Foundation recipient, in a scene with actor, Warren Christie, on the set of "The Color of Rain" Hallmark movie

Theresa Kull, New Day Foundation recipient, with the actress playing Colleen in "The Color of Rain"

The Blessed Partnership: Moms

My mother, Dolores Spehn, was a great mom. She took care of our every need growing up, attended every game and concert. She encouraged me to tryout for teams, run for student council, and ask out the cutest girl(s). She did so while raising three other children and running our household while our dad worked.

As we got older, busy with our lives and distractions, Mom used to chide us for not calling often enough. “I have four other children,” she’d say tongue (half) in cheek. “But you only have one mom.”

Her point of course was to emphasize to us that we’d better treasure her while she was still here because she was the “only mother we’re gonna get.”

She was right about appreciating her while she was here. She left this world in 2004 and with every passing year I seem to appreciate her more and more. What I wouldn’t give to be able to call her today.

But Mom was wrong about one thing: You don’t “only get one mom”. Yes, there is only one person who gives birth to you, but being a mom is so much more and so much different than giving birth. When we were kids, my mom’s best on our block was Mary Walsh. Though she had ten (yes, ten!) kids of her own, Mrs. Walsh helped raise us as well. She was our “second mom”.

Later, in my high school days, my best friend was Dan Pelekoudas. Because my parents had split up by then and because Mrs. Pelekoudas was greek and could cook like nobody’s business, I spent a lot of time at their house. Mrs. Pelekoudas became my second mom during those days.

Today my five kids all have second moms. Mrs. Lynch, Mrs. Dean, Aunt Colleen… These are the second moms to our kids. And we all are blessed because of it.

Perhaps the greatest example of the “second mom” plays out every day in our home where our kids are blessed with true second moms, Gina and Cathy. They co-parent, one in heaven, one in the kitchen, in a a blessed partnership, in service to their children, and to their God.

One brought these kids into this world, the other brings them up in it. And it’s my privilege to watch. Somedays I want to cry. On others, I simply marvel at His plan and give thanks that it works in our lives.

To all the moms… and second moms, in this world, thank you. Not just for the infinite things you do for us every day. But also for the blessed partnerships you form with really great women, who become our second moms, and help shape our futures.

Let’s Get Dirty

Below is a blog post that hit Huffington Post today. Here is a link to the article online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gina-kell-spehn/lets-get-dirty_b_2544969.html

Let’s Get Dirty

I don’t make New Year resolutions because it feels like I’m setting myself up for failure. But during the quiet and languid days between Christmas and the New Year, I enjoy reflecting on the past and considering ways to be a better human, to live a better life. It occurred to me that I spent countless hours in 2012 in conversations with women over breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner, bleachers, wherever, and though the names and places were different the themes were almost always the same. Women deeply desire to live and be better, but we are constantly at war with ourselves. Fear and failure have crept into positions of authority over our lives. We like things neat and tidy, but sometimes, life is just messy and downright dirty.

In striving for a better life, we’re often consumed by the internal struggle for contentment. Dissatisfaction is rooted in our very nature. With one bite of the apple, we were destined to a messy life of anxious longing. We choose to eat that thing, yell at that kid, or say yes to that commitment, because it’s easier than going to battle… again. It’s hard work to drop that cookie and have a healthy body. Working out is inconvenient. It’s painful. Sweat stinks. Talking through issues with our kids is time consuming — it’s easier to say, “Because I said so!” Saying “no” to a friend might disappoint her. So you get a sitter instead of letting her down, but now, something else has to give (see your husband and kids).

Paradoxical, don’t you think? What comes “easily” — eating that brownie, yelling at kids, saying yes to a friend, fill in the blank — is often the source of our greatest struggles. Doing what’s hard is often the source of true peace and our greatest successes.

The battle for contentment rages daily. We live in a conflicted, complex world, and we often live as reflections of that environment rather than as a reflection of the God whom we proclaim has authority over our lives. We can use our messes as offerings to God. Our yearly, daily, momentary resolutions, when they involve the cleansing, healing presence of Christ, become a source of restoration for ourselves and every relationship in our lives.

After many years of conversations with women, I have a few tactics that might be useful for the war raging in you:

One hole in your head serves as gatekeeper to your wellbeing. Your mouth wields extraordinary power capable of devouring your entire body, mind, and spirit. The mouth savors, kisses, reveals, and cuts — no matter how much we color and gloss our lips they merely adorn the entrance to a dark tunnel. The source of light for that dark place comes when we fill our two eyes and two ears with Godly wisdom to flow both in and out of our ONE mouth. That which you bring to your mouth — the kiss, the food — or words which flow from your mouth — the kind, the angry — should be carefully considered.

You don’t have to be right. You don’t lose when you submit. Paradoxical truth time — submission empowers. Study it. Apologize. Deal with your anger — it’s rarely expressed because you’re mad, it’s usually something deeper, typically rooted in fear. When you talk about your fears, anger dissipates. If your husband isn’t a great listener, call a friend, get a therapist, find a way to remove fear. You can’t live in fear and live in Christ. Fear and faith cannot coexist.

Laughing together heals. If you don’t know how, set your DVR to record Ellen, it’s laugh therapy. If you don’t have a DVR, get one. It’s 2013. If you can afford a cup of coffee at Starbucks every day, you can afford a DVR.

Pray together. Awkward, right? Go back to what I said about fear and deal with it. Praying together is profoundly intimate. Let go. Bare it all. Which leads me to another topic.

Get your sex on. Specifically, married sex. If you’re the wife who regularly says “not tonight” or who never initiates, it’s time. This isn’t about having sex. Any monkey can do that. Be sexual with your husband. Embrace your sexuality. Enjoy it. If you don’t know how to enjoy it, there are resources available for this. You deserve to have this part of your life in good working order. Go to your spouse to figure this out. Your girlfriends are helpful, but your man will have more answers. Listen to him. Talk about it. If you can pray together, surely you can talk about what works in the bedroom?

Greet one another every day. Hello and goodbye. Kiss and hug and in front of the kids. Gross ‘em out, just a little.

Play together. Stop what you are doing and experience your kids. Say yes. Dishes can wait. Did you get that? The dang dishes can wait! So can that load of laundry. Confession: I’ve washed the same load three times because it sat in the washer too long and got funky. Don’t judge! In all fairness, it’s partly a forgetfulness issue (again, don’t judge!) But it’s also a choice. What we do equates to what we value. Ouch, convicting.

Get dirty. Set aside the need to maintain the outward appearance of perfection. Value relationships more than you value shiny countertops. Leave the dirty dishes and dirty laundry to go get dirty with your husband (there I go with the sex thing again!). How about getting in the dirt in the backyard with the kids? Make time to play and get dirty. Life is now.

Converse with your kids about more than school and homework. Talk about current events, interesting people, new discoveries. Share the joys of your childhood with your kids, instead of comparing your glorious generation to their defunct generation. Teach them to do anything… make an egg, paint, clean, sew a button, make a fort.

Serve. This doesn’t mean deplete yourself. This means love your neighbor as yourself. Pastor Karl Galik loves to point out that the commandment does not say, “Love your neighbor instead of yourself.” Self matters. But selflessness matters too. Service is the best of both worlds. I have witnessed countless times the healing power of service. What we do for the benefit of others, remarkably has an even greater benefit for self. Not always easy or convenient, but vital to humanity.

Live gratitude. In the exchange of one negative emotion for gratitude we discover the source of transformational power living within us. Tap into it. It’s holy.

New Years resolutions begin to fail right about now. We’re a predictable lot, but have hope! He has not only given you a new year, but a new day. What you do with it is up to you. Maybe it’s time to get messy, even a little dirty… literally and figuratively. Whatever you resolve to do, or think, or eat, or say has the potential to cause an internal or external mess. When we allow the cleansing presence of God to wash over every choice, we experience restoration, growth and success, no matter how messy life gets.

Thirteen Years of Marriage, Seven Years Later…

Matt had a theory about how to tell if an album was good. “You have to listen to tracks three and seven,” he’d say. “It’s Biblical.” According to Matt’s theory, if tracks 3 and 7 are worth the time it takes to listen, the album is usually pretty good. It’s entirely subjective and unproven, but it worked for him. Matt would say, “In the Bible, three and seven are symbols of completeness or perfection” and that was it. That was Matt’s simple rationale for determining if an album was worth keeping. Given that he had over 1,200 CD’s at the time of his death, I seriously question how often he employed his own theory! Regardless, to this day, I still listen to track 3 and 7 of every album I buy or think about buying. This is the quirky stuff that sticks with me after seven years without him. These are the unique and precious qualities of Matt Kell that captivate my thoughts. These are my personal treasures, the little things, uniquely Matt, that I tuck away in my mind. But there are a host of treasures, many still undiscovered, that are more universal in nature.
I miss him. It hurts deep. He is with me every day. Our boys epitomize him. Our foundation memorializes him and ensures his beautiful legacy. And daily, I make new discoveries through every experience I shared and didn’t share with him. Glorious transformation! Beauty from ashes. This is why I write. This is why I speak publicly. Perhaps my clarity can be a catalyst for you.
A treasure is defined as “a concentration of riches, often one which is considered lost or forgotten until being rediscovered.” Relationships, especially marriages, are filled with buried treasures that can remain undiscovered, smothered in our desire to win, take one another for granted, and hold fast to our expectations. But when a relationship is rocked by tragedy, severed by death, it’s breathtaking and even suffocating to see what’s been hiding right before our eyes. Clarity rips through the veil of pride and fear. Why couldn’t I see it before cancer? Perhaps worse yet, even when I could see it, why didn’t I appreciate it?
My reflections and remembrances about my life with Matt before he died, and since, deeply influence every relationship I have today. Losing him has given me new eyes through which to see this beautiful life. It’s been a solitary and personal expedition (with Christ), yet I deeply desire to share my riches with as many people as will listen. My life with Matt was filled with many treasures, yet many were buried deep or even undiscovered until cancer and death unveiled them. I have regretted the circumstances that became the catalyst for transformation in me. I would have preferred that I had actively consumed myself with the pursuit of being a better wife and mother, sister and friend, before such tragedy entered my life, but sometimes it’s the people who think they know the most who often require the most refining! Through my experiences, I have gained some fresh insight. I do not pretend to have all the answers, but I am answering a call to get back to writing. It is my hope that I can offer nourishment to those who hunger for a better life, better marriage, better self. Christ fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish. Anything is possible!
I hope you will join me as I spend the coming months seeking purpose in the every day, using my relationships and experiences, past and present, to draw upon. I hope you will engage here and comment freely. This is your blog, a community of friends who can call on one another for answers. I’m looking forward to what 2013 will bring to each of us.
Thanks for remembering Matt with me, celebrating his life and rejoicing in the birth of a Savior who brings clarity and purpose to every relationship and circumstance in our lives.

Coolidge Avenue

Gina (far right) and “Santa’s Helpers” at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, MI

Coolidge Avenue runs North and South through suburban Detroit and is a mostly-straight, unremarkable stretch of road that could exist in just about any town.

Almost seven years ago, on a clear and cold morning, I drove a little too fast along Coolidge Avenue trying to get to Beaumont Hospital where my beloved Cathy battled against brain cancer. Within hours of my arriving, she would lose her battle.

This morning I found myself once again driving a little too fast down Coolidge Avenue heading for Beaumont. This time however, my mission was different. The social workers there organize an annual “Adopt a family” program for Christmas. Each department in the hospital “adopts” a family who, on top of going through the horrors of cancer, also are facing severe financial distress. While this is always a difficult situation, it becomes especially sad at Christmas time. So the good folks at Beaumont adopt a family in need and shop for them, and give them a Christmas to remember. When we at the New Day Foundation for Families heard about this program we wanted in. Then, when we mentioned this in casual conversation to our friends at LJPR, Inc. in Troy, they said they wanted to be a part of this as well and they adopted a family too!

There are thousands of little “programs” like this all around this country. In churches and hospitals and corporations and schools. Wherever two or more are gathered… The spirit of giving is alive and well and I just wanted to point that out.

Today I drove a van full of toys and gifts and clothes and diapers… and even wrapping paper and tape so that the parents could share in the joy of wrapping Christmas gifts before giving them out to their kids. I had nearly nothing to do with this. I didn’t pay for the gifts – the generous donors to the New day Foundation did that. Gina shopped for most everything. As the delivery man I simply got to reap the infinite blessings of the smiles and the hugs. That makes for a pretty good day.

I thought of Cathy and Matt. I thought of the literally thousands of people who have given from their hearts to our foundation. I thought of the families I’ll never meet who will, for one day anyway – Christmas Day – have something to smile about.

And I thought… Redemption is real.

So for one day anyway, driving a little too fast down Coolidge Avenue, on a clear and cold morning, was worth it.

Merry Christmas.

Coloring in Pontiac Michigan

I met a new friend today. Her name is Nadia. (Not really. You will discover in a moment that I’ve had to change the names in this article.)

Nadia is four and a half years old. Her mother, Talia, was born in Russia. The father is… well, nowhere to be found. He abused Talia to the point where she was hospitalized, ran away with Nadial to a women’s shelter. Ultimately they found their way to a place called Lighthouse in Pontiac, MI.

Although her mother is Russian, Nadia was born here and is an American citizen. After her mother fled her abusive relationship, she could not find work because she was not an American citizen. Soon Talia and Nadia had nowhere else to turn but Lighthouse. They arrived almost a year ago with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. They were given an “apartment” that is approximately 300 square feet. It has a kitchenette with 40 year old appliances and no table to eat at. There is a tiny bathroom and an 8′ x 9′ bedroom they share. Talia has decorated it all in pink for her little girl. The main room, where I met my new friends, is small, dark and has a few pieces of donated furniture. Nadia spends part of her day in the Montessori school on the lower level of the building. When she is done for the day she does her favorite thing in the world: coloring with crayons. She draws pictures of princesses, horses, green fields and smiling people. Dreams of a life she’s never known. Her mom tapes every one on the inside of the door. (The 40 year old refrigerator is too small.)

The staff at lighthouse helped Talia get her green card so she could work legally. One of their great strengths is removing barriers to people working. Talia has found a job and now saved enough to get a used car. She and Nadia intend to be at Lighthouse another year. In that time she will take classes to learn about budgeting and parenting. She will role play with staff members to help her interview to get an even better job. By the time she and her daughter leave Lighthouse they will be self-sufficient and on the path to a safe and productive life.

For those who are interested in the math on all of this…

The average cost for families like Talia’s to stay at Lighthouse is $13,000. This includes everything. Once they are out and on their own, a study done at the University of Michigan found that that $13,000 was “paid back” to the community on average within 18 months of families leaving Lighthouse. This is actual productivity and taxes paid and does not even include the dollars saved by taking the family off public assistance and welfare. Further, Lighthouse boasts a 91% success rate for families in their Lighthouse PATH program. This works.

On Wednesday night President Obama and Governor Romney are going to debate the important issues facing our country. And in the interest of full disclosure, I’m a conservative Christian who typically (but not always) votes Republican. When the conversation tomorrow night drifts to sound bites about “the 47%” and the “entitlement class”, etc., I hope that, no matter what your political leaning, you will not consider the conversation to be abstract or hypothetical. Because it isn’t. It isn’t about economic theories or political platforms. It isn’t about winning the news cycle or “appealing to the base.”

It’s about real people in real places.

It’s about a little girl coloring with crayons in a tiny apartment in Pontiac, Michigan and a mom who needed a little help to get her and her daughter on the right PATH. In a country of 308 million people there are many many, more like them. I pray there are Lighthouse-like programs in their area. And I pray we never turn our backs on these people and those in service to them.

James 1:26-27 sums it up well.

“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

 

More about Lighthouse

The good folks at Lighthouse have extraordinary programs that are aggressively (and impressively) addressing poverty in America. Lighthouse Emergency Services offer emergency food, utility assistance, medical assistance and other crisis support. Lighthouse PATH provides women (typically single mothers who have been abused or have had other crisis) up to two full years of transitional housing in a safe and structured environment and an opportunity to rebuild their lives. Family counseling, daycare, child educational services, and other services are offered. Lighthouse Community Development literally is rebuilding impoverished areas with affordable housing units that clients can take ownership of and pride in. The Center for Working Families provides financial counseling, employment assistance, classes in how to get a job and coaching on how to use a family budget and live within means. They specifically treat root causes for poverty, removing barriers to people connecting with jobs, self-sufficiency and a hopeful life.

Making the turn…

I turn 50 today.

As a golfer I look upon this milestone with the same bittersweet feelings one gets making the turn between the ninth and tenth holes and a really great course. I’m exhilarated to have played some great holes (and some not so great) and I am still in the midst of the game, yet the round is at least half over now. I’m faced with the “homeward holes”. The back nine of life. The part of the course that will take me back to the clubhouse. Mmm.

I really don’t “fear” the clubhouse. It actually was one of my favorite parts of the day back when I was learning the game. My dad taught me to play. He and I played countless rounds together and, almost without fail, when we were through, we’d go into the clubhouse for a root beer and some pretzels at the bar. Dad would put his arm around me and say, “Let’s get a little ‘RB’.” I can still see the foam rising in the glass today.

I feel as though my life so far has mimicked the experience of playing Pebble Beach. It’s a course I played several times and know it well. It is as special as you’ve heard. The front nine however has some forgettable holes. Number one is only remarkable because it is the first hole at Pebble Beach. Number two is a very reachable par five. Three is an iron off the tee and a long iron into the green. Four gives you your first glimpse of ocean on the right while playing a very short par four (the only test here is a well-trapped green).

Then you come to hole five. Redesigned in 1998, this is a beautiful par three. After the first four holes of adolescence, number five offers you the same special feeling you get as you enter adulthood for the first time. You sense that you’ve entered some special station in life, yet you don’t feel the full weight of grown up pressures just yet.

The par five sixth hole begins to reveal something more is expected of you now. This isn’t your muni course back home. This is real. This is like when you got married and bought that first house. Get the ball up the hill on your second shot. No “or else”. Just get it done.

Number seven is the first time you have kids. One of the most photographed holes in all the world, it’s nothing more than 106 yards downhill to a fairly good sized green. No problem, you say? Okay. Let me introduce you to the wind off the Pacific that will gust to 50 mph unexpectedly, leaving you scratching your head wondering whether to hit a half a wedge or a driver.

Welcome to “the cliffs of doom”. Number eight is simply breathtaking and frightening all at once. This is time to take chances. Make the kind of shot that changes your life, er… round. If it works, you’ll ask someone to take a photo of the moment. If it doesn’t, you’ll slink into your cart and cry for mommy.

Number nine is long and difficult. It is a 481 yard par four usually into the wind, with the fairway and green both sloping severely toward the ocean on the right.

So here I am. I’ve worked hard. Carded some bogeys, at least one triple bogey, but also got me a couple of birdies – and not lucky ones chipping in from 100 yards out, I’m talking tap-ins! When I look at my scorecard for the front nine I guess I’m at about even par. And although I’m a little intimidated at the thought of finishing the round someday, I do look forward to the back nine ahead. I’m a little better player now then I was on the front side. I’m more patient and seem to think through the shots more carefully now. Plus, the 18th at Pebble Beach awaits me.

My faith tells me that, when I putt out on that 18th green, my eternal life in God’s clubhouse will begin.

When I arrive, I do hope He’ll have an RB and some pretzels on the bar.

Sweet Home…

I have a milestone birthday coming soon (September actually) but since we have two major events that month (For New Day Foundation, click for info) so this past weekend my wife Gina surprised me with an early birthday gift. No it wasn’t a new set of Ping irons (with 65 degree loft wedge and a great new golf bag). What she chose was actually the most personal and thoughtful gift I have received in a long time.

She brought me home.

One of Gina’s favorite new songs is the one by Phillip Phillips called “Home”. In it he sings,

“Hold on to me as we go. As we roll down this unfamiliar road. And although this wave is stringing us along, just know you’re not alone. Cause I’m gonna make this place your home.”

I like that. I’m gonna make this place your home, just by being in it. My presence here makes this your home. Take that any way you wish. Spiritually, literally… Either way, it works nicely. And it makes me think that Gina likes the song for reasons other than Phillip Phillips is cute.

Gina fooled me into thinking we were spending the weekend here at a local Detroit hotel and instead spouse-napped me to the city of my birth, Chicago. Once we were there she had several other surprises in store starting with a knock on the hotel door. When I opened it there stood six friends with whom I had played a regular poker game here in Michigan. A few years back, the circumstances of life scattered us all over the country. But here, in my hometown, my Michigan poker buddies had come.

That night, after an evening of catching up and gorging on Chicago’s finest stuffed pizza, we settled in for a long night of doing what we became famous for: Trash talk, sarcasm, hysterical laughter that still makes our faces hurt, really bad music (sorry Luke) and some cards thrown in there too. Finally, around three in the morning, more from attrition than desire, it had to end.

The next day more surprises. The boys I met when we were ten, now men I am proud to call my lifelong friends. They came. Soon we were all packed into the Red Line El train headed to Clark and Addison; Wrigley Field. Walking into this baseball cathedral is like stepping into a time machine. I swear I can hear the announcer telling me to “Get your pencils and scorecards ready…” Over there is an Andy Frain usher. Cathy’s face is getting red from the Sun out in the bleachers. Standing by the beer guy is my dad and his brothers. Just four rows back from first base is my brother and his sons. In the field it’s “Santo, Kessinger, Beckert, Banks – The infield third to first. The battery is Holtzman and Hundley.”

It was a dream. A sun-kissed Saturday at the Friendly Confines. Everywhere I looked was a memory. As we took the El train home the windows provided a flip-book memory show as we flew past Belmont Ave (Leona’s restaurant and their Sicilian Chicken), Armitage (Gamekeeper’s and nights of debauchery), North Ave (The Second City Theater), and on. Restaurants, taverns, the church where Cath and I got married, parks where we played pick-up basketball, my first apratment… and so it went.

Later that night there was more food, more recollections, more stories from the old days, more “What’s new” with these new days. Eventually it was time. The weekend came to a close. As we drove East on the Skyway headed back to Michigan I was quiet for a time. Stunned really.

I couldn’t believe they all came. Busy men, all with full calendars, responsibilities, bills to pay, etc. They all just put it down for a day or two to come and be together. I loved that. I was humbled by that. I was blessed by that. I know that I call Chicago “home”, but really, home is where your people are. Home is where your boys are. They “make this place your home”. Billy, Curt, Karl, Jim, Luke, Mychal, Scott, Jeff and Danny. Men from different eras of my life. From different parts of the country. Men who blessed me, and each other, by going home for the weekend.

Anyway, I am reminded of Thomas Wolfe. He said, “You can’t go home again.” Obviously he never met Gina.

She did the impossible. She brought me home. I could never imagine a better gift. (Unless of course those Ping irons also included the rescue clubs too! I mean let’s be practical!)

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For anyone who appreciates this kind of thing, here is the incomparable Buddy Guy doing the song the way it’s supposed to be done…

I Am the 86%

Tomorrow night the opening ceremony for the Olympics will play out on TV. It is expected that more than a billion people will be watching – 14% of the world’s population – as 10,000 performers, 900 children, and nearly 100 farm animals (seriously) will engage in what amounts to the Orange Bowl halftime show on steroids.

Women (or at least the two women that I’ve been married to) seem to love the Big Show. Men – not so much. We’ll watch the Big Show if we have to but mostly to make fun of it. Women on the other hand seem to be genuinely entertained by these spectacles. This baffles me. Like anyone, I’m impressed by the enormity of the Big Show. I mean… it’s Big! Okay. But beyond that, it reminds me very much of the shows we used to put on in our garage when we were kids. We’d get every kid in the neighborhood, put on that Elton John/Kiki Dee classic “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart”, and we’d all gyrate around barely dancing, barely together, and mouth the words of the song.

I will grant you that the Big Shows have much better costumes and lights but…

I started watching Big Shows back in the 70s. It was there, as a young lad, when I first saw the “Up With People” version of the Big Show. This served as a specific delineating moment in my adolescence: I did not like Up With People, therefore I could be assured, I was heterosexual. (If you think I am exaggerating, put on your bell bottoms and check out this link: Up With People Halftime at the Silverdome)

Later, the halftime shows tried to get edgier. They hired Mickey Rooney, George Burns and The Grambling State Marching Band to lip sync the song “What a Feelin’” from Flashdance. This was followed by a year of n”Sync/Aerosmith/Britney Spears. Comedian Lewis Black called the sound they made, “It wasn’t music… it was the sound of chaos. The sound of pigs being slaughtered, women weeping and men gnashing their teeth! Sounds so horrible that if I were to repeat them for you now you would run screaming from this place.”

Of course soon the organizers of The Big Shows of the world got really hip. They started to invite MTV to produce their shows and book stars like Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson. (I contend that not only was that infamous “wardrobe malfunction” pre-planned, it was set up by the makers of TIVO. Think about it.)

Now there have been a few worthwhile Big Shows. Well, one. The Super Bowl halftime in 2002. This was mere months after 9/11 and the world was still very much in shock. The Super Bowl was one of the first really big public spectacles since the attacks and people were uneasy. Watch what U2 did with the moment and tell me that, even ten years later, it doesn’t still bring chills. (U2 Super Bowl Halftime Show)

There was one other really great moment in the world of Big Shows. This was the opening piece done by NBC for the Beijing Olympics. Great visuals, great script, perfect voice… When it was presented live it ended dramatically, perfectly, on the word “Now!” at the 4:23 mark. However, they couldn’t just leave it be. They had to make it “Big-er” They actually added American Idol winner David Cook singing “This is the Time of My Life” to a montage at the end. (Here’s the link: NBC Beijing Olympics Opening)

Let’s hear it. Were you among the 14% of the world watching this year’s Big Show? What did you think?

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